All-Star Rizzo now leading way for Cubs

CHICAGO -- That on-field dust-up the Chicago Cubs had with the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday was all part of Anthony Rizzo's master plan to get to the All-Star Game.

"You know, I knew there was 30 minutes left in the Final Vote, and I didn't hit a home run that day so I had to do something," Rizzo joked Friday.

Rizzo did end up winning the Final Vote and securing a spot on the National League All-Star team so it was easy to look back and laugh. But in the heat of the moment Rizzo didn't like it that Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman threw two fastballs to the backstop when Nate Schierholtz was at the plate.

He seemed to be angered even further when Chapman was dismissive of the Cubs' protests and stepped toward the Reds dugout before the next half inning started, a gesture that caused the benches to empty.

A day later, Rizzo had no regrets, saying it was something he had to do.

"It was just an incident where you stick up for your teammates and that's all it is," Rizzo said. "I respect the Reds, I respect Chapman, I respect their players, but you just have to stick up for your teammates."

The entire incident might just be one more sign that Rizzo is becoming the complete player as he evolves into a leader.

"I think yesterday, quite frankly, I thought Anthony standing up in that moment yesterday during the ballgame showed that he's got a little bit of heart in what it takes to be a leader, and I think everybody gravitated to it," manager Rick Renteria said.

While Rizzo might work hard in the batting cage and on his defense, he isn't trying to force the issue when it comes to leadership, so that wasn't his intention when it came to the mostly verbal sparring with the Reds.

But the leadership skills of both Rizzo and Starlin Castro have been emerging all season, with both being rewarded with an All-Star spot.

"I don't think we'll ever look back; that's not the type of players we are," Rizzo said. "I don't know, we just want to get better and keep our heads down and when we are good just go with it and don't think about, 'Remember when we weren't good.' We just want to get the pieces and keep getting better."

He is obviously respected by his teammates. The cheer that broke out in the Cubs clubhouse Thursday when Renteria told the team Rizzo was an All-Star was as genuine as it was spontaneous. But it didn't just end with the cheer.

"I walked in after the game, a nice big win and (director of media relations) Peter Chase looked like his dog just died, so from that look I accepted that I didn't win the Final Vote," Rizzo said. "But we were happy with the win and Rick called a team meeting and he told me. It was unbelievable. All the guys rallied around me, poured some stuff on me and it was great."

While sitting in the same clubhouse with all his NL teammates will be nice, he will have his eye on one particular player from the opposing side.

"I'm looking forward to Derek Jeter, seeing him,' Rizzo said. "He's a childhood hero, basically. I can always say I was a part of his final All-Star Game. He's just the true definition of a professional. Everything he has done in his career, on the field and off the field as well, everything he has done and to be part of his last All-Star Game will be surreal. I will just soak it all in, be very wide-eyed and enjoy it all."